The Federal Communications Commission is one of the sleepier government agencies. It doesn’t get people worked up in the same way the Department of Education does (just mention Common Core and watch people foam at the mouth), and it doesn’t have the dewy newness of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
John Oliver went on a 13-minute bender to explain net neutrality and the parties involved in protecting or dismantling it on his weekly satirical news show “Last Week Tonight.”
After playing a clip from an FCC hearing, Oliver said: “Oh my God, how are you still so dull? And that’s the problem. The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.”
He may be just the firebrand activist we’re looking for — because Oliver’s rant and subsequent call to action may have crashed the FCC’s Web site, or at the very least slowed it to a crawl. Oliver encouraged people to comment on the FCC’s site while it decides what to do about net neutrality.
“At this point, and I cannot believe I am about to do this, I would like to address the Internet commenters out there directly,” Oliver said. “Good evening, monsters. This may be the moment you’ve spent your whole lives training for … for once in your life, we need you to channel that anger, that badly spelled bile that you normally reserve for unforgivable attacks on actresses you seem to think have put on weight, or politicians that you disagree with, or photos of your ex-girlfriend getting on with her life, or non-white actors being cast as fictional characters. … We need you to get out there and, for once in your life, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment, my lovely trolls, turn on caps lock, and fly my pretties! Fly! Fly!”
By Monday, the FCC’s commenting system had stopped working, thanks to more than 45,000 new comments on net neutrality likely sparked by Oliver. The agency responded on Twitter:
We’ve been experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system due to heavy traffic. We’re working to resolve these issues quickly.
— The FCC (@FCC) June 2, 2014
By the evening, the FCC was still experiencing problems:
We’re still experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system. Thanks for your patience as we work to resolve the issues.
— The FCC (@FCC) June 2, 2014
So, just what did the “Daily Show” alum say to get people so incensed over how their Internet is delivered? He used a classic “Daily Show” trick: highlighting good old-fashioned cronyism. Nothing gets people’s blood boiling like the notion that government officials are just a wash cycle removed from their previous jobs as highly compensated lobbyists.
“The guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it,” Oliver said. “That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo. … With the fact that they are practically overseeing their own oversight, it is hardly surprising that cable companies are basically monopolies now. A federal study found that 96 percent of the population had access to two or fewer cable broadband providers. It’s almost at if they’ve agreed to stay out of each other’s way, like drug cartels.”
Oliver was referring to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who is responsible for figuring out a way to enforce net neutrality since a federal appeals court ruled in January that the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate whether Internet providers create “fast lanes” and charge more for them. The FCC’s commenting period on net neutrality closes June 27.